Why is writing a book so hard? Because everything has to be significant. Every random thing ideally has to tie into a less random thing. But it’s not like it always happens on purpose: sometimes you just come up with things on the spot, and somehow, they work. But they have to work—because if they don’t, the reader will remember them for all the wrong reasons.
Looking at your current writing project as a whole, which parts of it do you want your readers to remember—and which will they remember whether you want them to or not—the most?
The climax, and the very end
Notice the beginning isn’t mentioned here. The beginning of a story is what draws the reader in; it’s what syncs their brains with the world the author of the book has laid out on those pages. But, unless you have a plot that intentionally begins at a key point, draws back to the past and hits that beginning point at the climax, the very beginning of the book isn’t always what we remember most.
Reading and then watching Paper Towns, I’d almost forgotten the park incident by the time both stories reached their ends. The prologue exists so you catch a glimpse of Margo’s curiosity and fearlessness, and the line about strings breaking. But other than catching my attention, that particular thing—finding the guy in the park—isn’t what stood out to me the most. And it wasn’t supposed to.
Beginnings are hard, especially because you do need to come up with an effective way to draw your reader in. But if you’re one of those writers really fussing and fretting over your first line (points to self), take a deep breath. Relax. Your turning point, and probably your last line, are where you need to put even more of your limited creative energy when it comes time to revise.
The emotionally drenched pages
I love Laurie Halse Anderson’s novels, Wintergirls in particular. The one thing that bothers me is that she writes on darker subjects, with narrators that often tend to be fairly emotionally detached from the story they’re telling because of the awful circumstances. This is great; I actually kind of like the darker tone (don’t judge). But sometimes, having a narrator that’s so emotionally detached makes it hard, as a reader, to get, well, emotionally attached.
This is why we don’t just read one author all day every day. I’ll read the next novel she publishes, and the one after that. But I also, every once in awhile, need a story that emotionally wrecks me—and there are a lot of other readers out there that feel the same way, probably.
Those scenes that even you get a little emotional writing (it’s okay to cry) can often turn out to be some of the most memorable scenes in your entire 300+ pages of work. So unless it’s purposeful for characterization and plot reasons, give your characters some emotional reactions to the things that happen to them. Your readers will thank you.
The parts you loved writing the most
One thing that really stood out to me in Go Set a Watchman, which I read out of interest and because To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite classics (I wanted to see what her original draft, which is what Watchman is, looked like) was how deeply the flashbacks pulled me into the story.
I didn’t realize until after I’d finished the book that I’d liked them not because they were the foundation for Mockingbird, but because I could tell Harper Lee put her entire heart and mind into those scenes, probably more so than the rest of the book. Thos scenes are what stick with me days afterward. She loved writing them; I loved reading them.
Readers notice when you can’t get enough of what you’re writing right this second, and as a result, they wish it would never end—and that’s exactly what you want their reactions to be.
In my fiction, I use a one-liner style to pack small punches into my prose. Those are the pieces I hope people will pick out and store away in their memory banks, so I separate them from the rest of the text and give them their own line to stand on. You’re not always in control of what your reader retains, but as long as you’re able to get a little lost in what you’re writing, you’re doing something right.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.
One thought on “Which Parts of Your Book Will Your Readers Remember Most?”
Love your advice. This is very true–I think that sometimes we don’t give the emotionally charged parts of our work enough attention because they are already so strong and moving to read. Thanks for the reminder! Off to edit the second draft of my novel, Unsettled. Can’t wait to publish!